The Beauty and Danger of Publishing

One of the things that appeals to me most about publishing is that something I created long ago can continue to pay me money. I have titles I published in 2013 that continue to sell today. (Not many copies because those are all dead pen names that I don’t do much to promote, but sales are sales and that effort was done and dusted long ago.)

But most titles won’t continue to sell forever without continued effort to release more material under that name or promote them. So the same thing that appeals to me about publishing (long-term income from a project I finished long ago) is also what I have to guard against.

So far today I’ve sold 36 books on Amazon, which is great and will help pay my rent. But book sales are a lagging indicator. They happen after all the work has been done. After all the words have been put on the page, all the editing and formatting has been done, after the cover and title have been chosen, and after the publishing and promoting have been done.

It can be easy to focus on the sales number and forget about the months of effort that were required to get those sales. And because sales of most titles do trail off over time that means you can be headed for a fall off a cliff and not realize it. And when you do realize it you can be months behind where you should be to get things back on track.

So far today I haven’t written any words. I could probably continue to do that for six months without seeing any sort of huge impact on my income. It would probably require more promotional effort over time, but I could keep pretty steady for a while. But if I did that for a year? Or two? I’d definitely feel the pinch.

That’s why it’s important to track leading indicators as well. My big one, of course, is words written. (And to some extent, titles published. Writing words is meaningless for what I’m talking about here if those words aren’t going to lead to publishable titles.) The words I write are always the first step in the process. Without those, I have no new material.

The other one for me–that I also make into a New Year’s resolution–is ad spend. I target a certain amount of ad spend per month with the expectation that ad spend leads to sales.

So while it’s nice to see those sales and it helps take a little of the pressure off to know that money is coming in two months from now, it’s not safe to focus on just that sales number. I need to instead focus on production and building a base of material because it is far too easy to get lulled into a sense of false security with publishing.

 

A Good Post on Writing Scams To Watch Out For

One of the hardest aspects of getting published, either traditionally or by self-publishing, is knowing what’s legitimate and what’s a scam. And there are people out there who make a very good living by taking advantage of the ignorance and hopes of aspiring authors.

Anne R. Allen had an excellent post on her blog this week outlining ten current publishing scams to look out for.

My one quibble with what she said is that for non-fiction I think print is a much bigger part of sales than it is for fiction, even for self-publishers.

But still. Don’t go paying for a box full of books to sell out of your garage unless you are already established as a speaker with an audience you can sell them to. Print on demand (through KDP Print or IngramSpark) is the best option for print for self-publishing, IMO, unless you’ve pre-sold a large number of books already, like, for example, through a Kickstarter project and can justify the cost of a print run.

(And those scams targeting teens have been around for ages. I once “won” placement in a lovely gold-embossed book of poetry which was only $50 to buy. Fortunately, I was not so excited to see my poems in print that I paid it.)

Writing Speed

One of the conversations that often happens around writing is how much can a writer feasibly write in a day or a week or a month or a year.

Often people will discuss how many words per minute they can type and try to extrapolate that to some number of words they could write if they just had the time. “Oh, I write 50 words per minute, so if I have sixty minutes that gives me 3,000 words which means if I quit my day job and write for six hours a day I can write 18,000 words a day. That means I could write the first draft of a 70,000-word novel a week.”

Now most people aren’t that extreme about it. But there are definitely people out there who argue that it’s easy enough to write 5,000-10,000 words per day. And that doing so for five days a week gives you 40,000 words in a week which gives you a novel a month easily.

What got me thinking about this is that I started the next cozy mystery this morning. And in the space of about an hour I wrote the first 2,400 words of the cozy, which for me was two chapters, each written in a thirty-minute chunk.

It’s only eight-thirty in the morning right now. I have a call in half an hour and need to feed the dog and spend time with her, but I have at least four more hours I could write in this afternoon. Which makes it look like I could easily hit 5,000 words for the day. And if I can do that today, why not tomorrow and the day after and the day after.

But it turns out that, at least for me, how many words I can write has nothing to do with my typing speed. It has to do with my idea-generation and refilling-the-well speed. I wrote 2,400 words this morning but none the past three days. And I’ve been pondering the way into this story and the plot for the story for months now. (The general idea–a cold case–was actually going to be the idea I used one or two cozies ago, so I’ve been trying to come up with a good cold case idea for months now. Which, because it’s a cozy, also has to be a bit light-hearted, too.)

It’s quite possible I’ll be able to sit down this afternoon and write the next chapter or two. But it’s equally possible that I’ll sit down to write that next chapter or two and not quite be ready for them yet. Or that I’ll write them and then need to go back after five or six chapters and smooth things out and ramp things up to keep the story momentum where I want it.

After many years of this I’ve found that for me the steady writing pace that helps me keep moving with a novel and not burn out averages around 2,000 words a day. (Non-fiction averages closer to 3,000 words a day and requires less downtime between drafts.)

And that’s still a higher number of expected words than I actually produce in a year because I need downtime between projects where my mind is working on the ideas and turning them this way and that and imagining scenes or dialogue I might include but I’m not writing.

Others work differently. Some people are binge writers. They just dive in and write for hours on end until they’re ready to collapse. Some people extensively outline so that when it comes time to write they can also put words on the page for hours at a time. Some are so high in Ideation that the ideas are always there and they don’t need that pause.

And some have to achieve perfection the first time they type a sentence so only get down 250 words an hour.

The key is to learn what’s reasonable for you and to plan accordingly. Don’t push yourself to be something you’re not. Find that steady pace that you can hit comfortably and work from there.

And also understand that others work differently and so will have different results than you do. Which means you shouldn’t tell someone they’re not capable of writing faster than you do just because you can’t do it. But it also means you shouldn’t tell someone who writes at a slower pace that they’re just not trying hard enough.

We all work at our own unique pace.  The key is finding what works for you and is sustainable for you.

 

New Release Checklist

I’m always forgetting at least one thing I’m supposed to do for each new release, so I figured I’d try to put together a checklist to use for the next release and I’d share it here for anyone who needs one themselves.

Keep in mind that I am wide with most of my books and that I usually publish in print at the same time I release in ebook so there will be far more on my list than on some.

PB=Paperback, EB=Ebook

1. Upload PB to Amazon and proof with previewer. Make changes until final.

2. Upload EB to Amazon and proof with previewer. Make changes until final.

3. Upload PB to IngramSpark and submit.

4. (Next day) Proof and approve PB on IngramSpark.

5. Publish PB and EB on Amazon. (Write down foreign currency prices for use with other sites.)

6. Upload and publish EB on other sites. (D2D, Kobo, Nook, G+, Apple)

7. When published on Amazon, claim EB and PB versions on Author Central.

8. Create listing for book on Goodreads. (This prevents the book from being listed incorrectly under authors with the same name.)

9. Update Books2Read link when all major retailers are in. Give custom name to URL and review Author page for positioning of new title.

10. If there are followers for that name add book to BookBub profile to qualify for new release email.

11. Announce new release on website.

12. Announce new release to mailing list.

13. Update Also By section for EB of any related books with links to new title. Upload to sites.

14. Update Also By section for PB of any related books with new title. Upload to sites.

15. Update EB files for new release with links to new title. (If applicable.) Upload to sites.

16. Wait two days and if EB and PB versions are not linked on Amazon, request that they be linked via Author Central.

17. Add listing for new title on website.

18. Post to FB or other social media about new release, if applicable.

19. Start an AMS ad on new title in US and, if warranted, UK.

 

 

Some Days I Can’t Even…

There is a writer’s forum that I refuse to post on anymore after I watched a discussion of a fairly controversial topic where information was provided from more than one source on a topic most people aren’t well-informed about and then two posters basically said, “I chose not to read that information that was provided but here’s my outdated, uninformed, insensitive opinion on the matter.” I’m simply done with helping people who don’t want to be helped.

But I still drop by and read the posts.

And today…

Oh my.

There was a discussion on there about how a trade published author that someone hadn’t heard of (who has been a highly successful author with two to three trade pub releases per year for the last thirty-plus years and sold at least 20 million copies) must not be very successful because of their Amazon US rank. The individual making this claim said that he was just as successful as this author because their most recent releases were basically ranked the same on Amazon US.

First, I’m not sure what the commenter was comparing, but when I looked at the latest release by the self-pub author and the trade pub author, this is what I saw.

Trade pub author with a rank of 26K for an ebook priced at $13.99.

Self-pub author with a rank of 49K for an ebook priced at $4.99 and in KU.

Let’s just stop right there for a second. Because if a book is in KU and it is borrowed, Amazon gives that book a rank boost equivalent to a sale. Someone can open that book, decide it is pure drivel, return it, and that book will still get the benefit of the rank boost.

So to claim that a book that is ranked purely based on paid sales and a book that is ranked based on paid sales and KU borrows are equivalent in terms of their performance is absurd.

Also, setting aside the borrow issue, look at the price paid for each sale. One is selling at $4.99. One is selling at $13.99. More than double. And I do not believe that the one selling at $4.99 could continue to sell if it were priced at $13.99.

But there’s more.

Because the self-published title in KU doesn’t even have a paperback version. So all sales of that title are happening on Amazon in ebook.

Compare that to the trade pub author who is published in print. And well-established enough and popular enough to be carried in pretty much every single physical bookstore. And in libraries. Something that will not show on an Amazon US ranking.

The number varies widely for different genres and authors, but the most recent estimates I’ve seen thrown around were that print is about 65% of the overall book market.

This is the part that so many indies miss. Because most indies publish POD which comes with higher costs and therefore higher price points, we tend to miss the print market.

I can hit it with my non-fiction but not my fiction. That’s because my $15.95 YA fantasy has to compete with $10.99 YA fantasies or, worse, $7.99 mass market fantasies.

Print is an incredibly big part of the pie and especially in fiction it’s a part of the pie that most indies don’t get.

Sure, some indies make a lot of money. But it’s mostly in ebook or in audio. Dismissing print is like the authors making money in KU dismissing everything else. They’re making good money but it’s in a relatively small section of the overall market that actually exists.

Because indies don’t compete effectively in other portions of the market they forget that those portions of the market exist or they dismiss them as small because their ability to reach that part of the market is so limited that they assume it must be small.

Anyway. Bottom line. Honey, you ain’t anywhere close to touching the level of success of that particular author. But nice try, thanks for playing.

Almost 2020 – Ten Lessons I Learned

I keep trying to write a post about how it’s almost 2020 and a decade has passed since I left my last full-time job but those posts keep getting way too deep for what I wanted to put up here.

So let’s try this again, with just a focus on the writing and some numbers. That should be safe enough.

A decade ago I hadn’t even written my first novel. But in 2011 I finally did. And then in 2013 I wrote a non-fiction book I knew I’d never query traditionally, so I self-published. There were some interruptions in there, like a seven-month consulting project when I didn’t write at all, but six years after that first self-published title…

I currently have two romance novels, four cozy mysteries, and a YA fantasy trilogy published as well as a series of billionaire romance short stories that continue to sell despite my efforts to ignore them. That’s on the fiction side.

On the non-fiction side I have way too many books about Microsoft Excel as well as books about Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. I also have a book on budgeting, a cookbook, a series of books on dating, another on puppy parenting, and a handful of books on self-publishing and/or writing. There’s also a book on data principles that probably needs to be renamed but won’t be.

I had also published but have mostly unpublished at this point a large number of short stories and a book on grief.

Maybe not surprisingly given my background, my most profitable titles have been on the non-fiction side. Six of my top ten most profitable titles are non-fiction. But there are two fantasy novels and a romance novel and those damned billionaires rounding out the top ten.

I didn’t do any of this right. I spent far too much time writing short stories when I should’ve just gone for novels. I had way too many pen names to be sustainable. I didn’t try advertising to any real extent until I was four years into this journey and when advertising would have been far more effective if I’d tried it in year two or three. I didn’t focus in one genre let alone one niche in one genre. I didn’t follow-up on my successes the way I should’ve. I changed direction too often.

But after all that mess I’ve found some small success the last couple of years. I just hit 45,000 units sold as of November and $50,000 in profit. (Which if you do the math is not a full-time living even when concentrated in the last couple of years, but we won’t go there. I should clarify that that’s not enough for me. Some people would be happy to earn $25K a year. I’m not one of them.)

But it taught me a few interesting lessons along the way.

One, you don’t have to write in the biggest market to make money. My romance sells, but it costs a lot more to sell than other titles because of the level of competition which means either rapid release or low profit margins.

Two, writing to a hot market or hot genre will get you more organic sales. I don’t advertise those billionaire stories, but the collection still hit my top twenty-five most-profitable titles this year, and when the first one released (in 2014) it really did sell itself.

Three, I believe in advertising. Others may not have to (although why you’d see initial success without advertising and not find a way to exponentially increase that success by advertising is beyond me), but for me advertising is essential. It gets my books in front of their potential audience.

Four, I personally can’t write what doesn’t interest me. I wrote that first billionaire story as a lark. Wrote and published it in a day. But it was like pulling teeth to get myself to write the next one. And when I did write the rest of that series, I didn’t follow the tropes. My girl from the wrong side of the tracks went and started her own business so that when she finally got together with her billionaire they were on an equal-ish footing.

(I’ve recently come to believe this might have something to do with archetypes. I think the billionaire romance scenario often, but not always, is exploring the orphan archetype and I think I’m more in line with the warrior archetype or the seeker or sage archetypes. So adventure fantasy? Yes, please.)

Five, while being laser-focused helps–I’ve certainly seen more authors find success by writing in a series or in a specific niche–it’s also worth trying something else. I wrote the first Excel books because I was annoyed that authors didn’t know how to use pivot tables and I was tired of hearing people say they couldn’t figure out how many books they’d sold on Amazon. I expected the generic books about Excel to sell less than the one for self-publishers. But that series has been ten times as profitable for me as any other series even though it turns out not many authors bought the book that was written for them.

I’ve also seen a number of authors level up by switching to a new genre. I can count at least three that I know of that did it this year.

Six, when you write in a smaller niche competition can destroy your profits. I was so happy to see the success I had with the Excel titles that I blogged about it. Within a year at least three other “authors” had entered that same small space. They didn’t find the success I had initially. They just took some of a very small pie for themselves and drove up advertising costs so that every single sale was less profitable than before.

Seven, whatever you write you have to satisfy that readership. And what each readership wants is different. For non-fiction my books satisfy readers when they meet them at their current knowledge level and move them forward. Those who don’t know enough yet will be dissatisfied because the book starts too far ahead for them. Those who already know most of what I’m sharing will also be dissatisfied. With fiction it depends on what genre you’re writing. Cozy mystery readers are more concerned about getting the facts right than contemporary romance readers, for example.

Eight, you have to focus on your readers. It’s easy to see a negative review and think you should change the book to satisfy that reader. But often doing so loses you the readers you already have. Obviously, if a book only has negative reviews and they all say the same thing, there’s probably a craft issue there that needs to be addressed. But if ten readers say they loved the X in the book and one says they hated it, don’t change that. Not every book is for every reader.

And keep in mind that there is a very vocal minority in some genres that make it seem like everyone cares about X. They don’t. The average reader is just out there buying the books they like and keeping their opinion to themselves or sharing it with people they know in real life.

Nine, attitude matters. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. And I triple-majored at Stanford while working full-time. And got an MBA from Wharton while working more than full-time. Not to mention growing up with a terminally-ill parent. It’s not like I haven’t faced challenges before. But writing almost seems designed to erode your self-confidence. You have people very publicly commenting on everything you do.  (If you’re lucky enough to do it well enough for someone to care at all.)

As an author you’re struggling for one of a very limited number of spots at the table. Most writers do not sell. Actually, most writers do not even finish their first novel. Those who do and get it published in one way or another, generally don’t sell all that well once they do. And even for those who do sell and do sell well, you’re never certain it’ll last. And even for those who get to the point where it will last or where they’ve done so well the mortgage is covered for life, well that just opens you up to a whole new level of criticism where people say you can’t write or are biased or complain about what you chose to write about or didn’t choose to write about.

Some days the only thing that is going to save you and keep you moving forward is your attitude. So make sure that you surround yourself with those who believe this is possible. Not probable, you don’t need Pollyannas around you, but possible. If you are struggling and those around you all say, “Well, it’s not like you could honestly expect to make a living at this,” that’s the wrong group of people to listen to. You want the ones who say, “Well, you knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but people do it every day. So what can you change?” Or maybe, “You’re closer than you think, just keep going.”

Ten, because I already have nine, so why not make it ten. This is a marathon. You have to find a sustainable pace for yourself. What you can handle day in and day out. There’s nothing wrong with sprinting to get started, because backlist is powerful and so building up ten novels fast is going to really help you, but at some point if you’re operating in the red you are in trouble. Don’t sacrifice your marriage or your relationship with your kids or your friendships or your sanity for your writing. And do not jeopardize your health for it.

Yes, for some writing is a passion they can’t imagine not having in their lives. But really, it’s not enough in and of itself. You need more. Make it a priority, but don’t make it everything.


So there you have it. Onward to 2020 and the decade it brings with it. I expect change of some sort or other. Then again, I always expect change. It’s the one constant in life.

 

 

 

 

We All Have Different Reasons

I recently wrapped up the third round of Advanced Strengths for Writers coaching with Becca Syme and it had me thinking a lot in the last few days about motivation and goals. (Next session is in late October for anyone interested: https://betterfasteracademy.com/strengths-for-writers/)

What I found interesting about the sessions I did this time around was that the “answer” for each person was vastly different.

I had one person I coached where we discussed their dissatisfaction in only hitting six figures a year self-publishing and how they didn’t see why they shouldn’t strive for more than that. Given their Strengths my answer for them was that there was no reason at all they shouldn’t strive for more, the only question was how to do so in a way that played to their Strengths instead of trying to emulate an author who I suspect is high Discipline.

With another person we ended up discussing whether any form of publication made sense. They have a day job they love that feeds their Strengths in a way that fiction writing probably never will, so full-time writing has the potential to actually be unsatisfying for them because they will lose something vital if they give that day job up.

I also had more than one discussion about which path made more sense: trade publishing or self-publishing and how each person’s Strengths played into that decision.

So often these days writing conversations are based on the idea that you must get published and you must earn as much money as possible from that publishing. (One I tend to personally follow, admittedly, as seen in my post on mindset.)

But I’ve come to realize that’s not what drives every writer.

Some writers just want to indulge their creative side. They want to imagine worlds and people that don’t exist and flesh them out until they could be real, but that’s all they want.

Some want to be part of a community of creators. They want to interact with people who are imagining these new worlds and to be part of that community they feel they too must create.

Some love to tell stories and even to share those stories but they have no desire whatsoever to commercialize their writing. They just want to do what they want to do in the way they want to do it.

Some do want to sell their stories. They want to master the business side of writing as much as the creative side. But maybe they don’t care about maximizing profits. They want sales, yes, but will choose to write something less desirable if it scratches an itch for them.

And some would love to spend the rest of their writing career in the #1 slot of every bookstore on the planet and won’t be satisfied until they make that happen.

Any of those options is fine.

We each have to find our own path.

I think a lot of the stress or dissatisfaction I see in the writing community comes from writers in one category trying to discuss how to do things with writers in those other categories.

The key is to figure out where you fall and then surround yourself with the people who support that view.

Ask yourself why you do this. What do you want from it? What do you need from it?

Once you have that answer, don’t let anyone knock you off your path. Your choice is just as valid as theirs is.